Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example.
In exercise 4.4, I have explored the use of captions in newspapers and magazines. Therefore, for this exercise I have focused on images and text on a local high street (Skipton, North Yorkshire).
As I walked along the high street, it occurred to me that shop windows form images for reading – the contents of the displays are projected onto the glass shop-front and framed by the edge of the windows. We view the display as an image. Therefore, for the purposes of this exercise, I treat the shop window itself as an image where text is superimposed upon it.
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The photos were all taken on new year’s day and some shops were decked out for their January sales (1 to 3). Here the image is hidden and bold text proclaims the ‘sale’ – the absence of image is designed to create curiosity; ‘what is in the sale?’, ‘will I find a bargain?. Obscuring the usual display and hiding the image creates visual tension and a sense of mystery about what is hidden. It is intended to draw us into the shops.
The Halifax (image 4) attempts to use a humorous iconic image of Fred Flintstone to reinforce the message of relaxing in the knowledge that the consumer has ‘saved’ money by switching to the bank. ‘Saving’ has become an aspirational word on our high streets in times of austerity; if we can save we are more secure.
Tradition, quality and status are used frequently to attract consumers (images 8-12). The term ‘award winning’ on our high streets suggest that every other shop is a winner. The message of success. We are left to figure out exactly what ‘award’ has been won, but unthinkingly we could imagine it to be a significant award by virtue of it being advertised in bold letters on the high street.
The slogan ‘good things come to those who create’ (image 11), leaves us to imagine what the ‘things’ might be to us personally; everyone can satisfy their unique creative needs through the generality of the slogan, feeling assured that it will be ‘good’. The window-image is a collection of materials that we might use to create; they are unstructured, ready for us to use. We are free to create our own reading.
Image 16, ‘Hair at Saks’ is in an upmarket hair salon. The text simply proclaims the brand, but the image suggests the experience one might enjoy; white, clean, fresh and elegant. We will come out to face the world feeling purified and beautiful, perhaps like a bride on her wedding day. The words do not say this, but the image signifies this.
Images 19 to 21 deal with social consciousness and a sense of community; 20 and 21 feature images of people enjoying one-another’s company, of good times. They are both advertisements for banks – much vilified institutions following the financial crisis, and generally considered to be bureaucratic institutions that are not necessarily consumer-friendly. We are presented by community-spirited images, reinforced by text that tells us that the banks are supportive of communities and part of the community.
Finally, images 17 and 18 play on ethnicity – British baking and Italian ice cream. In one an image of a traditional mixing bowl is complemented by text that informs us that the bowl is in fact a ‘Great British design icon’. Not something that had occurred to me when looking at these bowls before; the text is attempting to make us see the mundane as iconic. In the other window-image, we are presented with a mock-up of a Vesper scooter, with red and green Italian stripes, alongside an extraordinary display cabinet that combines the hot colours of fruit with the cool colours of ice and shows ball-men running towards us; fruity and refreshing and attractive to younger consumers. The text simply states ‘ice-cream’, which is probably appealing enough without elaboration.
If we reflect on the images and text we see everyday, we can be more aware of the intention of the advertisers and the way advertisements may affect us subconsciously. However, in a world saturated with such images and text it is perhaps better to maintain a general alertness to their impact and only actively consider those that may have a direct impact on our actions, or otherwise have a specific interest to us; otherwise they would consume our full attention!
In photographic work, text can be so significant that if used, it needs to be considered as attentively as the image itself. I’ll experiment with the use of titles and captions with my personal work to become more familiar with the combination of images and text.